In the northern Donbass, the Ukrainians between denial and fatalism

Lyssytchansk, this city in the Lugansk region still under Ukrainian control, has been emptied of its inhabitants by two months of strikes. The shops are all closed, wooden planks on the windows and barricaded doors.

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There remains only a small covered market in the city center for war supplies. The other was bombed.

“Those who are left come out of their cellars in the morning and rush here to see if there is anything left, they run quickly and go back to their shelter,” explains Tetyanna Ivanenko, behind her barn.

“As soon as I have sold the last one,” I turn back, says the 45-year-old merchant, determined to “feed” his city to the end.

It rained all morning that day and Ukrainian and Russian troops appear to have delayed their now traditional morning artillery fire exchanges.

A hundred people gather under the glass roof of the market. This crowd makes everyone nervous.

“Everyone, it will end badly,” said an old woman, impatient in the queue for vegetables, suggesting a possible targeted strike, like two weeks ago at the station in the nearby town of Kramatorsk.

Severodonetsk, 10 km from the Russian positions: in the hospital, with broken glass in some places and some floors immersed in darkness, the fort holds everything the city has of volunteers, rescuers and civil and military medical personnel. The bombing resumed and the city was next to be surrounded by the Russian advance.

“We will remain until the last patient”, assures Roman Vodianik, its director, entrenched among the Orthodox icons in his office. The operating room on the 7th floor is still usable, he assures us.

“But operating under the bombings is not ideal” and, barring a life-threatening emergency, the hospital serves, in these probable last days of operation, only to welcome those who have nowhere to go.

Yuliana Alekseyevna, 81, was abandoned there. “It’s been two months, I come from Shchastia (a city now occupied by the Russians), my house was bombed and burned,” said the old woman with a bandaged hand.

The last civilians of Severodonetsk, those resigned to the offensive, gathered in the basement of the Ost-Chem nitrogen plant waiting for it to pass.

The huge Soviet-era concrete bunker houses 167 people, including families, who throng day and night in unsanitary conditions and the roar of machinery.

“We feed ourselves, we eat soup and Borscht, a big barrel, but for 160 people”, testifies Zinaïda Dymovskykh, 66, a refugee on a camp bed.

Despite the bombing, Ukrainian Red Cross ambulances attempted evacuation.

“The situation is getting worse, our priority is to evacuate the disabled or the elderly who agree to leave but can’t, this is probably their last chance,” says red-uniformed volunteer Oleksandr Chernych.

A dying 92-year-old woman is pulled out of the underground on a stretcher. “She won’t get to the hospital alive,” complains one of the paramedics.

In Roubijné, on the front line, a snap then a whistle.

Ukrainian artillery has just fired a barrage of shells at the infantry and artillery positions that entered the city. The bars of the Soviet buildings in the small industrial town disappear under the smoke.

Three sheep of black smoke stagnate in the blue sky, Russian drones shot down by the Ukrainian anti-aircraft defense.

The battle for Rubizhne has intensified since Wednesday. And Ukrainian forces now clash in street fights, as evidenced by automatic weapon salvos, heard nearby by the AFP.

The day before, word had spread that the city had fallen into Russian hands, which the Ukrainian general staff denied on Friday evening.